Rose hips are the seed pods of roses—the fruit that remains after the blooms fade. We don’t often see them anymore, because we tend to prune the faded rose blossoms down to the next stem node in order to encourage more flowers.
However, if you leave the spent flowers on the rose bush at the end of the season, you should see these small, berry-sized, reddish seed balls left on tips of the stems. They are actually very ornamental, looking like small crabapples. Rose hips are edible, and many birds enjoy them, too.
What are Rose Hips and How are They Used?
Edible Uses for Rose Hips
Both rose hips and rose petals are edible. Roses are in the same family as apples and crab apples, which is why their fruits bear such a strong resemblance to those plants. Rose hips also have a bit of the tartness of crab apples and are a great source of vitamin C. All roses should produce hips, although rugosa roses—native shrub rose species—are said to have the best-tasting hips. These hips are also generally the largest and most abundant.
Warning: Don’t use rose hips from plants that have been treated with a pesticide that is not labeled for use on edibles. If you're not sure, it's best to avoid using any pesticides if you plan to consume the hips.
Rose hips make great jellies, sauces, syrups, soups and seasoning, and even fruit leather. To get a sense of the taste of rose hips, start out by brewing yourself a cup of rose hip tea.
Tools and Supplies You Will Need
- Garden gloves
- Knife or scissors
Harvest the Hips
The best time to harvest your rose hips is after the first light frost has nipped the leaves, but before you experience a hard frost that freezes the hips solid. Light frost helps sweeten the flavor. The hips should still be firm and have good color. Leave the shriveled or dried rose hips on the plants for the birds to enjoy; they won't be as tasty and may be too mushy to pick. Waiting until after a frost is also good for the plant, since cutting the hips before frost could encourage the rose to send out new growth that will be killed back at the next frost.
Fully ripe hips can often simply be plucked off the rose canes. Or, you can clip them off with a knife or scissors. Make sure to wear garden gloves to avoid being pricked by the thorns on the rose canes.
Clean the Hips
Trim off the stem and blossom ends from the hip. Hold the hip securely and slice it in half. You can do all of this trimming with a pair of scissors if the hips are too small to use a knife.
Remove the Seeds
You can use whole, fresh rose hips, but the seeds inside have an irritating, hairy covering, so it is best if you remove the seeds prior to eating. Cut the hips in half and manually scoop out the seeds.
Rinse and Process the Hips
Thoroughly rinse off the rose hips by running water over them in a colander, then decide how you want to use them:
- Rose hips can be cooked to extract the juice for jams and jellies. The juice can be strained and used immediately, or frozen for up to a year.
- To dry rose hips, spread the hips out over baking trays rays and dry them in an oven or dehydrator set to 110 degrees Fahrenheit until the hips are dry and brittle. When completely dry, store them in airtight jars.
To use the dried rose hips, cover them in water in a pot and simmer on the stove until they are soft. Strain out any remaining seeds, then use the pulp to make jams and jellies. Used this way, rose hips are often mixed with other fruits, such as apples or cranberries.
You can also use fresh or dried rose hips for a simple rose hip tea. You will need about twice as many rose hips if you are using fresh ones. For fresh rose hip tea, steep 4 to 8 rose hips in a cup of boiling water for about 10 to 15 minutes. Don't use aluminum pans or utensils that could discolor the hips; aluminum also destroy the vitamin C in rose hips. Stainless steel is fine.
- Tip: For the most healthful impact, use rose hips when they are fresh. Drying rose hips causes them to lose most of their Vitamin C.
If you want to try out the flavor of rose hips, but don't have any in your garden or you aren't up to all the seeding and prep work that is involved, rose hip tea is widely available in many grocery stores.